Kidston Elementary School

COVID-19 exposures identified in Okanagan school districts

Province and Interior Health no longer providing contact tracing and notifications

Cases of COVID-19 in schools might not be traced by the province or health authority, but there is a watchdog keeping an eye on the situation.

BC School Covid Tracker is operated by two moms seeking transparency of data on schools affected by the virus.

The mandate of the citizen initiative operated by Richmond mom Kathy Marliss and Vancouver Island counterpart Andrea Rosszman is to make information available, as reported by community members. It has been ongoing since the beginning of the pandemic but is even more with the return to school this year since the province will no longer be providing exposure updates.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said that parents will only be notified of COVID exposures in schools when attendance drops below what she called “typical rates.”

READ MORE: K-12 students head back to school in B.C. amid new COVID notification system

Two exposures were reported at Kidston Elementary School Jan. 10. That information would normally be available on Interior Health’s school exposures list on its website. But the website is empty under the Vernon School District tab, which Kidston, a Coldstream school, is part of. Only the BC School COVID Tracker has the information listed.

Elsewhere in Interior Health, a Jan. 4 and 5 exposure at Kelowna’s Okanagan Mission Secondary has been reported in the Central Okanagan School District to the tracker.

Contact tracing and exposure notifications are no longer being offered in the public school system.

Vernon School District superintendent Christine Perkins says the situation is no longer the same and notifications are not sustainable.

“Many more people will get the new variant. Omicron has a short incubation stage, transmission is faster, and there will be more self-testing,” Perkins said. “The good news is that most people are now protected from serious illness through vaccination.”

Meanwhile staff, and students, have been preparing for the likelihood of functional school closures.

A functional closure is a temporary measure determined by the district or independent school due to a lack of staff to provide the required level of teaching, supervision, support, and/or custodial to ensure the health and safety of students.

”This would likely be due to a high number of staff or certain employees away who are required for a school to function, and the inability to temporarily replace them,” Perkins said.

Students would then pivot to remote learning.

“It is fully expected that after a week, students will return to class, however, we must all remain flexible,” Perkins said. “We will call families back to face-to-face instruction as soon as it is safe to do so.”

There is also the possibility of a transportation closure if there is a lack of staff available for bussing.

READ MORE: Re-opened schools in Alberta and B.C. see slightly higher-than-usual absentee rates


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